April 17, 2015

A Guide to Fairness for Families in Divorce.


But it’s not fair!

I hear that statement daily from clients, often several times an hour. They’ll say “It’s not fair that…” :

“…I only see the kids 50% of the time.”

“…the kids can’t see me on my birthday.”

“…he/she gave up on the marriage and I’m the one suffering.”

“…I can’t see or speak with my kids everyday.”

“…he/she was an absent parent while we were together and now she/he are super mom/dad.”

“…I have to pay child support.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fair as:

Fair adjective \ˈfer\:
agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable:
treating people in a way that does not favor some over others:
not too harsh or critical

Well that sounds reasonable.

The definition of fair in the context of my work essentially means to have a reasonably kind and mutually respectful relationship with your child’s other parent for the sake of your children.

Yet many parents are claiming that what they are experiencing with their child’s other parent isn’t fair.

Like beauty, fair is in the eye of the beholder.

If you wanted something in your divorce and got it, chances are you would view the outcome as fair. If you wanted something in your divorce and didn’t get it, you’d view the outcome as unfair.

What parents often forget is that divorce is inherently unfair.

Rarely is the decision to end a relationship mutual. Rarely do both parents feel only one parent should have all the decision making authority and time with the children. Rarely (never!) do either parents in divorce end up financially ahead.

What the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition leaves out is that fair is a perception created by people to meet their own needs and wants.

Unless your needs and wants are met during the separation and divorce process, you’ll feel that the process, agreements or consequences are not fair.

So how do you shift your perception of fair? How do you get to a place with your child’s other parent where you feel the process and outcomes are fair?

1) Look at the perception of fair through your child’s eyes. What does fair look like to him/her?

This is where it can get tricky. Even though parents claim their needs and wants are synonymous with what is best for their child, the agenda of their parental needs and wants ends up trumping the child’s needs and wants.

To your child, fair would be having intact parents, not separated ones; fair to your child would be having parents who got along; parents who listened to his/her needs rather than positioning themselves to be the better parent; parents who didn’t create a tug-of-war with the child as the rope; parents who accepted that divorce and separation isn’t fair, and rather than dwelling on it, made the best of it.

Create a perception of fair in your child’s eyes.  Communicate that while his/her parents may not be together, at least they aren’t fighting.

2) Challenge your individual perception of fair.

I often hear parents who are in the midst of creating a parenting plan that they just want it to be fair, but when pressed to define what fair looks like, they aren’t able to. They’ll say, “I think it’s fair that…”

“…I have the kids full time.”

“…I make all the decisions for the children.”

“…he/she only sees the kids twice a month.”

“…the kids always spend Christmas with me.”

“…I plan all the kids’ birthdays.”

“…I spend the child support on XYZ, I deserve a little pleasure after all the work I put into raising the kids.”

When you find yourself saying statements like those above, what you’re really saying is that:

“I didn’t end the relationship, I think it’s fair that I get everything I want. He/she has to pay for the decisions they made.”

“He/she was an absent parent when we were together, how dare he/she think they can now get more time with the kids now.”

“I hate my child’s other parent more than I love my child.”

Ouch, that last one hurt, didn’t it?

When you choose to fight with your child’s other parent about what you perceive to be fair, you are engaging in a conflict with someone who you’ve chosen to hate more than you love your child. If you were genuinely putting your love for your child first, the situation would look a lot different.

3) Question your child’s other parent’s perception of fair.

If you are struggling to figure out why your child’s other parent is so stuck on a certain topic or decision, question them on why they feel their position is so strong.

If you really want to understand where your child’s other parent is coming from, it is imperative that you ask your questions without tone and with genuine curiosity.

You may not always like the answer and sometimes you’ll have to reframe your questions to dig deeper, but if you ask the right questions you will gain a better understanding of your co-parent’s perception of fair.

“Help me understand why it’s important to you that our children live with each of us 50% of the time.”

And 99% of the time, the other parent will answer with…

“Because it’s fair.”

In response to this and with genuine curiosity (not shock and disgust), ask a follow up question to dig deeper:

“I understand that 50/50 is perceived to be fair for both of us, equal time with the children. That’s not what I’m asking. I want to know why it’s important to you?”

Parents often struggle to put words to why they want what they want. A parent may claim they want 50/50 parenting for a variety of fair perceived reasons that when gently pushed for clarity don’t really equate to 50/50 parenting.

Remember that when you are working toward creating a parenting plan and you hear you or your co-parent using the word fair, you know it’s time to start digging deeper to figure out the connotation that you (or the other parent) have attached to the concept of fair.

***Child safety always takes precedence. If you or your child is at genuine risk for harm please take appropriate steps to secure safety***


Author: Andrea Larochelle

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Flickr

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